Day 18

Chapter 18
February 20, 2003 – Travel Day 18
– Maryland -

Back in December, when we were haggling out the details of the trip, Margie and I agreed on one point. When we got to Baltimore (the city where she grew up and I went to high school), we decided to take one day off. I didn’t know her well enough to ask for clarification of what that meant. I just assumed old friends and crab cakes would be involved. It wasn’t until we pulled into the carwash with her niece and nephew in the backseat that it really dawned on me that Margie’s idea of rest could include babysitting and simonizing.

It was thirty degrees with snow flurries; an outdoor spray wash was not fit for man, woman or child. Margie didn’t fall into any of those categories. She jumped out of the car and set to work with the scrub brush. The kids and I remained seated, opting for strained conversation and awkward silences over cleaning with industrial water hoses. The three of us sat straight in our seats, staring out the windshield like road test dummies. Eventually, Margie finished washing the trailer and moved on to the car where she could easily peer in the windows to see us sitting warmly inside. With their limited height and strength the kids couldn’t be expected to help.  But, beyond the fact that I hated getting wet in freezing weather, I had no excuse for not being out there. It was at that moment when I made the mistake of trying to look busy by calling Lisa.

We hadn’t talked in two days and picked up with our relationship right where we’d left off. Immediately, we started fighting about money and, when that battle waned, Lisa asked tech support questions.

I was screaming into a cell phone, “click on the fucking apple.” Margie was obsessively trying to scrub the black off the tires. The children sat still in their seats absorbing all the dysfunction. I suspected that someday they’d be reprocessing the morning in front of a therapist. The only good news for them was that their situation was temporary. After we shared a lunch of fried chicken fingers at the mall, Margie was going to drop them off and they’d be free to do whatever they wanted. I was going to spend the rest of my day grocery shopping, cleaning, and repacking everything we packed yesterday.

For weeks, I had openly complained about Margie’s agenda; but on a day where I actually had things that I wanted to do, I quietly accepted her schedule. My cooperation set off a red flag and Margie demanded to know what my “game” was.

I wasn’t manipulating, just avoiding. I told Margie my story. Three years ago, on New Year’s Eve, I made an incredibly awkward pass at a good friend from high school who still lives here and I haven’t talked to since. I was going to try and call her, but we’ve just been too busy.

Margie honed in on the most important details of the story, “Was there flirting, innuendos, maybe some inappropriate touching? Did she have on a tight shirt?”

I wished my story had just one Penthouse Forum moment. Rather, the day started at a casino where the pit boss assumed I was my friend’s underage son and ended with me, stumbling drunk, trying to kiss her. I puckered my lips and moved towards her face in slow motion. There was nothing hot about it.

It was hard to find any hope in the story, but Margie tried, “Maybe no one else knows. Maybe she forgot about it.”

I wished.

A year later she invited me to her wedding. I was so embarrassed, that I didn’t even respond and didn’t go. Evidently, my absence gave another friend’s husband the freedom to imitate the pass and rejection throughout the reception.

I watched Margie go through the four stages of learning an embarrassing sexual fact about a friend. First came arousal and optimism. Then we quickly moved on to hyperbole, “That’s what gives all gay people a bad name.” Followed by a call to action, “You have to fix this.”

It was good to know that the most horrifying moment of my life didn’t just have personal implications. But Margie was right; I had to make the phone call I’d been dreading for three years. It was a huge relief when I got her voicemail…and then she called back. We made plans for drinks.

During the three years I’d thought about our reunion, I had never actually considered what I would wear or say. I just liked to assume that I would be attractive and charming. I didn’t expect that the meeting would happen when I was living out of a trailer without access to a hairdresser and the majority of my conversations were focused on restroom keychains. The only thing I had going for me was that I was driving a clean car.

When I walked into the bar, I saw something I had never anticipated. I didn’t find a manifestation of shame and judgment. I just found my friend, who I had missed for a long time. Our conversation was easy and relaxed. The apology came out with an eye roll and kind-hearted laughter. The evening was so simple and fun, it made me want to kiss her.

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